The symptoms of lung cancer can be many and various. Around one-fourth of those actually diagnosed with lung cancer present no symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Diagnosis and identification of the cancer normally occurs incidentally when the patient has a chest x-ray for an unrelated reason. The remaining three-fourths do develop certain commonly-known symptoms, and these are a direct result of the effects of the primary tumor as well as the effects of metastatic tumors elsewhere in the body.
Perhaps the most common – and most important – identifying symptom of lung cancer is the cough. It is, however, hard to tell such a cough related to lung cancer apart from a cough related to smoking or with chronic respiratory problems such as COPD, which also is a result of smoking. In the case of a patient with a chronic cough it is important to identify any changes in the pattern of the cough, as this could indicate the potential for lung cancer. Also, a new cough in either a smoker or an ex-smoker should also raise concerns and should be check out by a health care professional as soon as possible. This of also true of any persistent cough that does not get better over the course of time.
Another associated symptom is shortness of breath, and this also can be hard to tell apart from that related to the condition COPD as mentioned above. Again, just as in the case of coughing, any changes in the patient’s patterns of breathing difficulties should raise concerns sufficiently to ensure that a health care professional is consulted.
People should also pay attention to a symptom called hemoptysis, which involves the spitting or coughing up of blood. In the case that this symptom presents itself in someone with a history of smoking the possibility of lung cancer should be highly suspected and work and tests should be undertaken to rule the condition out.
Also, repeated respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia should be a cause for concern. In fact, in many cases pneumonia is a common way in which lung cancer makes itself known initially as the growing cancerous tumor can cause the airways to become obstructed, resulting in something known as post-operative pneumonia. In such cases it is advisable for patients to obtain repeat chest x-rays in order to ensure that the pneumonia is totally cleared.
Lung cancer may also cause fluid in the lungs if it spreads to either the inner or outer lung coverings, which causes fluid accumulation between the lung and the chest wall. In the event that this occurs the patient may well experience shortness of breath and, in the event that the cancer has entered the chest wall, patients may experience chest pain too. This should cause special red flags to physicians examining patients at high-risk of lung cancer. Patients may also experience bone and joint pain, as a result of tumors in the apex of the lung infiltrating the nearby nervous structures resulting in shoulder or arm pain.
Patients can also see changes in their voice patterns, with constant hoarseness also being a possible symptom as well as having difficulty swallowing. Patients may also experience weight loss, anemia and fatigue.